A naturalized citizen’s view on immigration, and beyond

We live in a complex, inter-connected world. We face challenges for which there are no easy or quick solutions. Yet, we are increasingly conditioned for immediate feedback and instant gratification, neither of which fosters the long-term perspective that robust solutions require.

In the article “The ominous decline of social democracy” (Washington Post, Opinion, September 16, 2018), E.J. Dionne touches this conundrum without specifically dwelling on it. In addressing the sweeping shift, across Europe, from humanistic democratic thinking to right-wing (and beyond) intolerance, he states: “In the Swedish case, as in so many others, anti-immigrant sentiment was the primary driver of votes to the far right. Sweden has been exceptionally generous in accepting refugees, and the once-homogeneous country’s population was 18.5 percent foreign-born in 2017 (compared with 13.7 percent in the United States).”

I am a naturalized US citizen, a part of the 13.7 percent. Born and raised in Africa, I moved as a teenager to the Europe of my parents, before immigrating a decade later, over 30 years ago, to the US. I went twice through an uprooting process: the first traumatic and prompted by civil unrest and war; the second exciting but still stressful and prompted in part by economic considerations. By moving across three continents, I created a better life for me and my family, while also contributing to my adopted country. Ours is in many ways a typical immigrant’s success story, in the big picture if not the details.

But immigration is a complex issue. Early human migrations across continents started over a million years ago. Migration of individuals, families, tribes and ethnicities has continued to be commonplace ever since. Climate, war, opportunity, greed, poverty, famine, persecution and slavery are among historical drivers. There are transformative success stories: Except for Native Americans, all Americans are or descend from immigrants, and our melting pot of races, cultures and creeds has produced the most powerful nation in the world.

However, immigration is spinning dangerously out of control worldwide, in part because of increasing human populations, political instabilities, and climate changes. Many of recent migrations cause real and increasing economic, cultural and security stresses. Solutions are in particular necessary for the worldwide refugee crisis, but immigration reform is needed more broadly across many countries. Solutions need to be balanced, pragmatic, and caring. They should also be strategic, and can even be opportunistic. But they will not be quick or simple.

For example, stopping refugees from seeking survival and opportunity—here, in Europe, or elsewhere—is neither morally defensible nor possible. By contrast, giving people the option of staying where they were born by positively and respectfully affecting the local economies and political systems is appropriate and beneficial. As is integrating refugees into host democratic countries, in ways that help the refugees, the host countries, and even (or should I say, especially?) the countries of origin.

This requires global solutions, not walls. Requires mitigating climate change, not exacerbating it. Requires advances in democracy, not its decline. Requires rethinking economic priorities and strategies. Requires that rich and powerful nations embrace shared, compassionate views of their society and societies beyond themselves. It cannot be done in hatred or with political or religious intolerance.

Coming November, Americans have a simple choice: Heed to the voices of populism, nationalism, white supremacy and bigotry. Or else, and vastly better, choose to embark on the long, arduous path towards a sustainable, inclusive US and world. The choice will have deep implications on immigration and refugee policies–but will more broadly impact the essence of who we are as a country.

Different states and congressional districts offer different specific choices of candidates, but most often the choice is still confined to either Democrats or Republicans. That is the case in my district and state. I will vote Democrat, not because they represent the perfect and full solution, but because they can play an essential role in reversing the non-constructive path of this Republican administration.

Beyond November, the key question will become how to change an archaic two-party political system into a form of government “for the People and by the People” that enables long-term solutions for the complex challenges that threaten this country and the human race. Immigration included. Time, patience and strategic action required.

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